Sunderland Harriers’ senior men aiming to repeat win in Farringdon Cross Country Relay

Houghton Harriers North East Grand Prix winner Laura Fenwick
Houghton Harriers North East Grand Prix winner Laura Fenwick

Sunderland Harriers senior men’s team bid to continue their winning ways in their own 34th Farringdon Cross Country Relay on Saturday.

The Wearsiders won last year’s event for the first time since 2012 to add to their record of 21 victories since the relays inception in 1983.

It was a superb performance in which team manager Albert James said: “This was a great win for us in a closely fought race.

“Our efforts to get our endurance runners up to the next level, was shown to be gradually coming together. We had four teams in the first 11 to finish. I was delighted with the result.”

James is looking for further progress on Saturday as he makes one change to last year’s team for the 4 x 1.8m relay.

Inform Ian Ritchie comes in for GP Matt Devlin, who has moved to work in Bristol. The 35-year-old Ritchie has improved his times over all distances during the summer and dipped under 16 minutes for 5k for the first time.

Last year’s victory was a well earned one, as they had leading clubs Tyne Bridge, Morpeth and Gateshead, following them home.

It was Steve Rankin that opened for Sunderland and he brought the royal blue vests home in third, clocking 9min 3sec.

Kevin Jeffress took Sunderland into the lead on the second leg just before the changeover, after his stint of 9.06.

Matty Devlin (9.35), making his relay debut, slipped to second on the penultimate leg before Steve McMahon chased down Gateshead and came home first with 9.09.

The benchmark for a top performance is a time of under nine minutes and last year’s fastest time was set by Morpeth’s Ross Floyd and Gateshead’s Dan Johnson (8.54) with Birtley’s Adrian Bailes also under nine minutes by one second.

James added: “We are a stronger team than last year and we are out to repeat our win. But it will not be easy as the three clubs that finished behind us can all turnout formidable teams. But we are quietly confident. I’m sure it will be another close run race.”

Sunderland’s Over-40 veterans’ are looking to improve on their runners-up spot of 2015. The team then was Tim Field (9.53), Michael Thompson (9.57), Paul Merrison (10.18) and Paul Blakey (9.43).

Only Field and Thompson remain up for selection as team manager Dean Phillips has to select four from five for his final team.

The others under consideration are Steve Potts, Ian Dixon, and Mark Head. It looks as though it will come down to between 51-year-old Field and Head for the final spot.

As well as the two relays there are races over approximately 1.8 miles for all the other age groups apart from the Under-11s who compete over 1,000m on the first race of the programme at 12 noon.

The relay starts at 1pm and the women’s race is the last one at 1.50pm. Late entries will be accepted on the day in the school hall.

Houghton Harriers are celebrating after having nine athletes winning awards, including two winners, at the conclusion of the North East Track and Field Grand Prix at Gateshead.

The winners were: Senior woman Laura Fenwick and Under-17 Jack Bittlestone. Under-15 Philippa Ellis, the long time leader in her category, just failed to win by three points in an exciting climax to her competition.

Fenwick amassed her points in the sprints and over 400 metres. Jack Bittlestone showed his speed over 100m and 200m and has also piled up points with other performances in the jumps and shot.

The other Houghton Grand Prix prize winners are: Under-13 5th Matthew Lumb, Under-15 3rd Henry Johnson, Girls 5th Lydia James, Under-17 4th Thomas Bowden, Under-20 4th Dominic Ellis and Senior Men 3rd Phil McCluskey.

Sunderland Harriers have two winners: Under-20 3rd Jess Fox and Under-17 4th Eve Quinn.

The Start Fitness awards will be presented at Gateshead Stadium on Monday, September 26, at 7.30pm.